Nfld. & Labrador

Here they come: Gander plans first Come From Away tours

Will Gander, a town without a local walking tour, be ready to accommodate Come From Away-inspired tourists?

Broadway musical inspiring trips, tours of Gander

The Gander airport, left, and a piece of steel from the World Trade Center at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. Both sites will make up the main components of any Come From Away-inspired tour of Gander this season. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Starting this month, the iconic Playbill magazines found in New York's Broadway theatres will host a new ad promising a "Come From Away experience" in Newfoundland.

Curious theatre-goers flipping through the magazine at five different plays will see the chance to win an eight-day vacation package, offered in part by the Fogo Island Inn and Newfoundland-owned Maxxim Vacations.

For the first summer, both groups are offering Come From Away-branded vacation packages — advertising the "famous hospitality, warmth and wit of the people of Gander."

They have reason to believe central Newfoundland will see musically-inspired guests filling hotel rooms and restaurants this season.

The Gander Airport, the town museum, and town halls in Gander and towns like Dover are all getting calls from Americans looking to arrange a visit to the town that inspired a Broadway musical.

CBC reporter Garrett Barry joined Abby Moss to look at some of the sights that will likely be offered on the first Come From Away tours in Gander. 3:13

But is Gander — a town without a walking or bus tour listed in Newfoundland and Labrador's tourism directory — ready for an influx of tourists?

"Gander didn't do it for the recognition," said Abby Moss, the woman who has been put in charge of creating a Come From Away-themed tour at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum.

To her knowledge, she's the first to plan a tour which will feature the artifacts of the the Sept. 11 attacks and Gander's response to the thousands of passengers who became stranded in the airport town.

Abby Moss, a student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, is charged with putting off the first ever Beyond Words tour for the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"I think it's kind of a surprise that people think so highly of the place and want to come visit now," she said.

"Now that people are starting to call and want to come, now we're kind of like 'We have to do something, we have to provide something for these people.'"

Moss's bus tours aren't completely nailed down — they are not set to launch until mid-June — but they will contain options to have dinner with Gander Mayor Claude Elliot or view the four pieces of steel in the region which once made part of the World Trade Center.

A viewing of the town hall, or the arena that transformed into a larger-than-life refrigerator in the days after 9/11, are also possibilities.

The tours will centre around the Aviation Museum and the Gander Airport, as do the Gander itineraries for the Fogo Island Inn and Maxxim Vacation plans — which allow for a Gander stay that lasts either a morning or two days.

Is that enough to offer?

"I really don't anticipate anyone being disappointed," says Jill Curran, owner of Maxxim Vacations. Her company is expecting its first Come From Away tourists of the season in just a few weeks.

She said people will see the sights and get the information, but they'll also get a chance to hear local stories and meet local characters — and will feel Newfoundland and Labrador hospitality and kindness, even if they are not stuck in need.

"Really, there's no one in Gander that doesn't have a memory or story to tell about that time," she said. 

"It's the human connection and stories that [are] the real take-away memory from this trip."

Something missing?

As a woman whose volunteer efforts in Gander after 9/11 helped inform part of a character in the musical, Diane Davis has seen Come From Away several times.

During one trip to New York this year, she was asked to bring Gander hats to give away. Unable to find Gander memorabilia in any local stores, she had to pay out-of-pocket to have something created.

According to Davis, that's just one area where the region, and its businesses, can improve.

"I think there's people that are going to come wanting to see specific places that they know are in the show," she said.

But without anything to map and interpret the Come From Away scenes onto local sites, she's not sure people will get what they're looking for.

Diane Davis was a teacher at Gander Academy during the days following 9/11. Her volunteering during that time inspired the character of Beulah Davis in the musical Come From Away. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"They'll still have a good experience in Newfoundland, but I don't think necessarily that they will automatically find the Come From Away connection," she said.

In a statement, the Department of Tourism said it had been working with local businesses to develop tourism products.

Davis imagines a website, app or even a brochure that will collect Gander's 9/11 experiences — the exact flights which were diverted, the places where people stayed, and the heart-moving stories that almost everyone has to share.

"I'm sure that there are things going on that I don't know about. But if I don't know about them, then probably other people don't know about them. I think the visibility is really lacking." 

About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.